Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Post-Ethical Society, or the Death of Shame

As I have previously discussed, my survey of the political philosophy of Plato and Aristotle has led me to conclude that both men were seeking to develop a perfect state that would be highly scalable and long-lasting (if not perpetual).  They were trying to establish what I will call here a "Ruling Paradigm," a comprehensive structure for establishing and maintaining social order that could scale infinitely over time and space (within the limits imposed by the confines of the Earth, of course).  Their approach was holistic and sought to embrace all aspects of life, public and private.  With the exception of Plato's Republic, which was openly totalitarian, both men promoted the idea that the laws of the state should be explained to its citizens so as to persuade them that the laws were just.  Further, both men seemed to agree that the purpose and guiding principle of the state is to maximize its citizens' happiness by helping them to lead a virtuous, ethical life.  

The Ruling Paradigm of the "states" they proposed have three key features: founding myths, laws and ethics.  All three of these features are found are in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible (aka the Torah and the Pentateuch), a fact which, along with other evidence has led me to conclude that the Torah was written as the basis of a Panhellenistic state applying the political philosophy of Plato and Aristotle. These three features have been the foundation of Western Civilization ever since, and may be found in Christianity (a Romanized version of the Greek "Abrahamic" state) and, more recently, in the Classical Liberalism (a secularized version of Christianity) that emerged from the Enlightenment and Protestant reforms and persisted until the mid-1980s.

Neoliberalism-- the current Ruling Paradigm of Western Civilization-- represents a major break from the past because it is wholly lacking in ethics.  In their desire to eliminate the "communistic fiction" of Classical Liberalism, the founders of neoliberalism disappeared the Common Good and removed any discussion of ethics, which presupposes the right of the collective to judge the individual.  While one could try to argue that the concept of "Liberty" that is a centerpiece of neoliberalism/libertarianism somehow provides a basis of an ethical code, but neoliberal "Liberty" is negative liberty, that is, liberty defined by the limits of state power, not as a positive liberty, which is an individual right.  Neoliberal "Liberty" exists so long as there is an area in the individual's life in which he is free to decide without government compulstion.  Not coincidentally, neoliberal liberty seems to be the flip-side of the neoliberal conception of the  "free market."  As long as the individual is free to choose among the goods offered him by the market, then he is fully enjoying "Liberty" according to neoliberals, regardless of what other oppression the government imposes upon him, even if that oppression takes the form of forcing to make a choice that he would not have to make absent government interference (e.g., Obamacare).

The emergent result of the neoliberal experiment is what I am coming to think of as the "Post-Ethical Society," in part because of the deliberate exorcism of ethics from the Ruling Paradigm of neoliberalism, but mostly because of the hubris and venality openly displayed by the Ruling Elites who are able to hide their  personal culpability behind the double-blind of the state and the corporation.

A byproduct of the the Post-Ethical Society is, increasingly, what I call the "Death of Shame," which goes far beyond the hubris and venality of the Ruling Elites and increasingly infects our whole society in increasingly unexpected ways.  The desire to be noticed-- Look at me!-- seems to trump everything.  Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Tumblr, etc., are all designed to allow the individual to sell himself or herself to the free market for, well, free.  But there is a cost: the loss of privacy and the loss of any sense of shame.

The good news is that the neoliberal Ruling Paradigm cannot last for much longer.  The cracks are already starting to show themselves, and the secular equivalent of the Protestant Reformation is bound to happen, although it may still take decades for current efforts to metamorphisize into an effective reformation movement.